The Fate series has come a long way from Fate/stay night, the adult visual novel that started it all. There have been anime series, films, light novels and manga series. Additional games have offered us the chance to go beyond “Choose Your Own Adventure” interactive experiences, offering us fighting games and JRPGs. Given the number of combatants and in-series war for supremacy, it isn’t surprising to see Musou/Warriors-style beat’em up where we fight for territory. Unfortunately, Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star isn’t as well developed as the series deserves.
Fate/Extella is set after the events of Fate/Extra and Fate/Extra CCC. Your hero or heroine, an amnesiac magus, won the Holy Grail War with the help of your Servant, which gave you access to the Moon Cell Automaton computer and have a wish granted. You control the system. Except, overload from connecting to the core has temporarily damaged your memory, leaving you with amnesia again. You’re supposed to rule over the AI with your Servant, but a double of yourself accompanied by another Servant has appeared to challenge your control. It’s up to you and your Servants to take back what’s yours. Which you should do as soon as possible, since a more ominous and powerful enemy is waiting in the wings.
Like Koei Tecmo’s Musou games, Marvelous’ Fate/Extella doesn’t put too much care into the flocks of AI enemies, occasional Aggressor territory defenders and more-common-than-I’d-care-for Plants.
This is accomplished by beating up ordinary enemies in stages until your opponent’s Servants show up. If you’ve ever played one of Koei Tecmo’s Musou/Warriors games before, Fate/Extella will feel familiar. Your character rushes through spaces and your button mashing wipes out the hordes of enemies in his or her way. Locations come under your control after Aggressors, their guards, are defeated. Fulfill conditions and a boss appears. Defeat him or her to end that level. There’s a Main Story mode with three campaigns, each one with a different female Servant as a star. There’s a Side Story mode, where you experience Main Story stages as your allies. A Free Battle mode rounds things out, allowing you to be any character you’ve already unlocked and replay areas.
Every non-Servant opponent is unimpressive. Like Koei Tecmo’s Musou games, Marvelous’ Fate/Extella doesn’t put too much care into the flocks of AI enemies, occasional Aggressor territory defenders and more-common-than-I’d-care-for Plants. The basic foes pose little threat and mill around areas, taking more time than you’d expect to realize your avatar isn’t around and should probably pursue him or her. Aggressors only show up after you’ve torn through a certain number of basic baddies. Plants pop up in areas to spurn out more Aggressors, determined to force you back to areas you’ve already cleared and derail you from completing objectives more quickly. They’re nothing of consequence; on harder difficulties, I just found them more difficult to swiftly exterminate.
The Servant opponents look impressive, but often don’t display much more intelligence than their minions. Once you actually get a boss to appear on the battlefield, a task accomplished through meeting objectives and conquering enough territories to complete your gauge, you enter into a slightly more interesting fight. Slightly, because the bosses are marginally more intelligent than the standard mooks. They have more health and strength, though they don’t often have the same drive to hunt down our characters the way Aggressors do. The fights against them are the real highlight, especially when it involves dialogue and interactions between the Servants. Unfortunately, like standard enemies, they’re easily defeated with button-mashing, rather than actual skill.
Which is a shame, because Fate/Extella does offer so many options when it comes to controlling characters. Each one has a list of various combos they can use. Normal attacks, interspersed with heavy attacks, can lead to unique attacks. There is an Extella gauge that fills as you fight, allowing you to use an Extella Manuever that both singles out opponents and deals damage to a massive group at the end. Each Servant can transform into another form, which has a Noble Phantasm attack. Our in-game avatar can craft Mystic Codes, which allow you to provide healing, buffs and general assistance in-battle by pressing a directional button during a fight. You can even release all three Command Seals to temporarily increase your Servant’s health and Extella Manuever gauges. There are all these opportunities to do more, even if the game doesn’t always give you the chance to show it off.
I wondered if this constant tug of war Fate/Extella was deliberately designed to make the otherwise small territories and maps seem larger.
Rather, it’s about getting things done as quickly as possible. Loitering is punished; more Plants will spawn, causing enemy Aggressors to take your territories. This forces you to abandon your current plan to drive them back again. I wondered if this constant tug of war Fate/Extella was deliberately designed to make the otherwise small territories and maps seem larger. The spaces the Servants, Aggressors and AIs inhabit are rather inconsequential and unremarkable. Places bleed together and don’t really stand out. Some offer poor layouts, requiring you to constantly shift the camera and jump just to see where additional enemies and footholds may be placed. It’s forced tedium.
The reward for all this, especially replaying battles in the Side Story or Free Battle with other Servants, comes down to money, character-boosting skills and fanservice. The former two come easily, meaning the real reason anyone would keep going through Fate/Extella is to see the interactions with characters. Completing side missions in stages and talking to the Servant in the room boosts the bond, which can lead to new gallery images and intimate conversations. Very intimate conversations. These happen regardless of the gender you choose and are unavoidable. Of course, this isn’t that surprising; sometimes new Servants are introduced with images of their bodies before you even see their faces.
There is certainly an audience for Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star. The visual novel elements to the storyline and opportunities to connect with certain Servants will surely please people who have been craving interactive Fate-related experiences. The battles can be rather bland and repetitive, sometimes offering a little less variety than found in Musou games, but some later fights do occasionally offer an opportunity to show your skills. It isn’t the best at doing what it does, but it is a competent beat’em up. Though truthfully, I couldn’t help but wish we’d received Fate/Extra CCC instead.